The NFC East has arguably the best talent in the NFL right now, superstars like DeSean Jackson, Jason Pierre Paul, Jason Peters, Hakeem Nicks, LeSean McCoy, Victor Cruz, Nnamdi Asomugha, Eli Manning, and Trent Cole all represent the tough division of the NFC East, a competitive, up and down division where almost everyone (sorry Redskins) are in it till the end. These games are hard hitting, explosive, and fun to watch till the end when a divisional game is on.
Two teams in particular, the Eagles and Giants, are arguably one of the best grudge matches to tune into twice a year. These games are always fun to watch, where anything can happen...even with 7:28 minutes left. These teams are weirdly similar. Explosive passing attacks, great secondaries, and top tier defensive lines that punish opposing quarterbacks. However, they also both lack talent in the linebacker corps.
The Eagles haven't had a quality linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter in 2007, heck they tried bring him back in 2009, but that didn't help much at all. The Eagles have had off and on performances from linebackers such as Omar Gaither, Takeo Spikes, Stewart Bradley, Will Witherspoon, Jamar Chaney, and Casey Matthews. The overall defense this past two years have been bad, in 2010 the Eagles allowed the most points in the NFL and in 2011, blew five fourth quarter leads. While there were many issues with the overall defense, the biggest was the poor play from linebackers, missing tackles, missing pass coverage assignments, and inability to shed blocks, crucial for LB's in the wide nine scheme.
The Giants haven't been much better, ranking 27th overall last season, giving up the 6th highest yards per game, and middle of the pack in terms of 3rd down percentage with 38%. However, the team was able to fire on all cylinders under Perry Fewell's defensive scheme. That being said, rookies Greg Jones and Mark Herzlich struggled often at MLB, Jacquian Williams only really had one amazing game (also another similarity between the Giants and Eagles, starting 7th round LB's), and when Chase Blackburn has 381 snaps, you're pretty thin at LB.
Both teams are now trying to rectify these LB trends for the past decade, by both trading for better players. The Giants have recently traded for former first round pick Keith Rivers. The Eagles traded for DeMeco Ryans a couple of weeks ago. I'll break down the winner and loser of the trades involving the Eagles and Giants. More after the jump...
Let me start off by saying, both teams have improved by trading for their respective players. But to determine a "winner" and a "loser," we need to look at production, value, fit within the scheme, and why (where these players traded).
From the stats posted above, we see that Rivers is still unproven, a young player at the age of 25 entering the fourth year in the NFL. He seems to be a well rounded, tackling linebacker that doesn't add much of anything to the pass rush, but past production isn't there. Looking at when he was in the lineup for the Bengals in 20120 (his best season), we see they were far from perfect.
This is Football Outsiders Defensive Effectiveness ratings from 2010. As you can see they have the Bengals ranked 19th overall. The DOVA examines every play and compares them to the rest of the league.
DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation. DVOA measures not just yardage, but yardage towards a first down: five yards on third-and-4 are worth more than five yards on first-and-10 and much more than five yards on third-and-12. Red zone plays are worth more than other plays. Performance is also adjusted for the quality of the opponent. DVOA is a percentage, so a team with a DVOA of 10.0% is 10 percent better than the average team, and a quarterback with a DVOA of -20.0% is 20 percent worse than the average quarterback. Because DVOA measures scoring, defenses are better when they are negative. For more detail, read below.
You can see that they are have a 9.0% weighted defense, and in the bottom half of the league in run defense. Lookin at variance, they are at positive 7.3% and ranked 21st. Meaning as a defense, they were very inconsistent.
VARIANCE measures the statistical variance of the team's weekly DVOA performance. Teams are ranked from most consistent (#1, lowest variance) to least consistent (#32, highest variance).
We see a extremely well rounded body of work from Ryans, Posting plus 100 tackling seasons four times in his career, also having some mild success at sacking the quarterback. His best season was his rookie season, acquiring 126 solo tackles and earning the AP Defensive Rookie of the Year award. His on the field performance has even earned him the nickname "D Wreck" early on in his career. He's been a two time pro-bowler and a one time all-pro player.
Clear winner in DeMeco, an all pro players vs Keith, a young and hungry guy.
The Eagles gave up their 2012 fourth round pick, and swapped third round picks in the third round.
- All 2012 picks, not lobbying future picks.
- Mid-to-late round picks. Worth the investment.
- Immediate and sure upgrade for the Eagles linebackers.
- 27 years old. Not too old, but depending on future health could be an issue.
- Added 5.9 million to the books, 6.6 million to the cap next season.
Although the deal's terms haven't been finalized, it is reported that they have traded only a 5th round pick in the 2012 draft for LB Keith Rivers.
- All 2012 picks, not lobbying future picks.
- Late round pick. Worth the investment considering the chances of a 5th round pick becoming a dominate player are slim.
- No large investment in Keith Rivers in case this fails, two year deal of his rookie contract, in which the 2013 year can be voided.
- Still 25 years old and still has potential entering his 4th season.
- Not very proven, along with the rest of the Giants linebackers.
The Giants may have had to give away the least, the Eagles got the most bang for their buck.Also, look at how much Bengal fans are flipping shit: http://www.cincyjungle.com/2012/4/11/2941489/report-linebacker-keith-rivers-dealt-to-giants-for-fifth-round-pick
Fit Within the Scheme
It's the last pick in the fifth round, so it's as close as you can possibly get to the sixth. Rivers developed a bit of a "soft" reputation in as the former No. 9 overall pick in the draft with Cincinnati, but he was not averse to playing through injuries and is a quality run defender when healthy. Look for Michael Boley to start at middle linebacker for the Giants. Rivers should handle the weak-side duties, with Mathias Kiwanuka on the strong side. Apr 11 - 2:06 PM Source: Ralph Vacchiano on Twitter
Keith Rivers seems to be a WILL linebacker in any 4-3 scheme, so their would have to be a shift on the Giants front. Since Michael Boley was hands down their best linebacker last season, acquiring 1177 snaps in the defense that a majority of the time, as well as a very good pass defender. I like the way that Ed Valentine sums up the thoughts of Boley in the middle.
Think about it, though, and Boley already functions much like a middle linebacker for the Giants, anyway. He took over calling the defensive signals for the Giants a season ago when Jonathan Goff went down to a season-ending injury, and it is Boley who makes most of the pre-snap calls at the line of scrimmage. Pro-Football Reference as always listed Boley as a left or right side linebacker. For 2011, he is listed simply as a linebacker -- indicating the adjustment in the scheme the Giants play.
When the Giants play their 4-2-5 alignment, which is more and more becoming their base defense, Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka or Jacquian Williams already line up and function somewhat like middle linebackers. In pass defense, range in coverage is a requirement of Perry Fewell's zone-heavy schemes, anyway, and we know Boley can run, cover and handle those deep drops.
So, Boley as the 'de facto' middle linebacker in the Giants' defense might not be as far-fetched as it sounds the first time you hear it. What do you think, Giants' fans?
I find it interesting that the idea of Michael Boley playing MLB was floating around. Although he isn't the natural size of a 4-4 MLB, in Perry Fewell scheme, I can see a perfect transition to MLB. In fact, moving Boley inside would cover the major hole at MLB, allowing the young rookies to develop more before being thrown into the lion's den. I see Kiwanuka at SAM, being the down hill, physical, block shedding LB, Boley being a balance in the middle, and Rivers playing well at WILL. And in their nickel formation, either keep down hill players like Kiwanuka or Greg Jones/Mark Herzlich or go coverage with Boley and Rivers/Williams. The rivers addition seems to fit well in Perry Fewell's scheme if he can live up to his potential.
The Eagles had a clear need at MLB probably since 2009, when the Eagles had a revolving door with MLB's that season. Since then, no prospects have really panned out. Enter DeMeco Ryans, a prototypical 4-3 MLB that is a solid tackler and very instinctive. He's a three down player and also a perfect fit in the wide 9 scheme, as he is needed to clean up anything the defensive line misses and be able to quickly diagnose plays while engaging incoming blockers. But lets also see how he fits within the Eagles LB core. Starting the 2011 season our LB's look like the following
SAM - Jamar Chaney
MLB - Casey Matthews
WILL - Mosie Fokou
Chaney and Matthews
Poor play over influenced these "starters" playing time and who lined up where in what scheme. Mosie Fokou did not translate well to a shit to the WILL, Matthews was to easily pushed around at MLB. Akeem Jordan and Brian Rolle came in to change up the core, but only Rolle really made a positive impact.
Tommy Lawlor goes into great detail about these changes in his article here. I found it interesting with his premise that the LB's where built around Chaney at SAM. Now that we added a sure starter at MLB, and Rolle has shown enough to be "comfortable" with him entering camp as the front runner, it comes down to ones thoughts on Chaney. I think an addition is strongly needed, his play last season did not warrant him be the foundation of the LB core this season. He deserves a spot, but not handed the job.
The combo of players and the ability to effectively use all of them gives them a clear edge over the Eagles current core.
Why were teams looking to part ways with these players lets break it down...
He's coming off a torn achilles that ended his season in 2010. These injuries seem to become more frequently throughout the league, for example the loss of Eagle Jason Peters for what seems the entire 2012 campaign. But back to the point, even entering the 2011, there was a noticeable difference is play from Ryans. Beat writer Rivers McCown goes into detail in a interview with JimmyK at Blogging the bEast...
...but coming back from the ruptured tendon made it even worse. He just wasn’t the same player as he was in 2008 or 2009 — noticeably slower and it was a lot harder for him to cover any player who could outrun him. He still has the instincts, the tackling is still there, but he was more "solid" than "great" last year.
Jimmy: I’ve seen it mentioned that Ryans got better as the season progressed in 2011. Did you see it that way?
Rivers: I would say that he played smarter. He started to get a little deeper on coverage, and he played a more contained game based on his new limitations. Better would be a step far for me. Teams started to catch on to the fact that you could pick on him around Week 8 or so, and the division rivals like Jacksonville and Tennessee would often split their running back out on second down, before he came off the field, to try to make him cover. He did reasonably well given the circumstances.
The Texans most successful acquisition from last season was defensive coordinator Wade Philips, former Cowboys head coach. He was able to revitalize a defense that was one of the worst to one of the top defenses in 2012, without adding too many noticeable pieces to the personnel. However, the switch from 3-4 was one of the reasons DeMeco Ryans, their defensive leader and one of their key pieces, was expendable. On top of coming off torn achilles, he struggles within Philips 3-4 scheme. According to JimmyK, Ryans ranked 15/25 among ILB in "per snap tackles" in 2011. This stat is just the number of snaps the player had during the season divided by the tackles the accrued, looking at how effective they were per snap. They also took Ryan's off the field in nickel and dime situations. The switch to a 3-4 is the main factor to his trade to Philadelphia, not the injury.
Just like Ryan's, Rivers has had his share of injuries. The comparison ends there, as Ryan's had been healthy for a majority of his career while RIvers has been injured through his career, he hasn't played a full 16 games once throughout his career. He's dealt with a nasty block by Hines Wards, and multiple wrist related injuries. In fact there were concerns that he had chronic wrist injuries.
"Lack" of Production
When you draft a first round player, you expect them to play early and often and show some level of production. Well, injury has hampered Rivers ability to back up his status as the 9th overall pick in the 2008 draft. This off-season the Bengals signed two linebackers Manny Lawson and Thomas Howard, making Rivers expendable.
Less concern for injury, scheme was the biggest factor behind the trade, not production.
Simple math tells us that DeMeco Ryans was a better addition overall, considering all factors surround the players themselves, values, and circumstances surrounding them. Both teams have made positive additions, but the Eagles clearly made the better addition. However, the overall quality outside of Ryans is lackluster, look at the draft to add a 7th round starter for next seasons SAM ;)
Thanks for reading.